At the Surface

“Love is love is love.”  ~ Lin-Manual Miranda.


For days now I’ve felt like my emotions are right at the surface, and truth be told, I don’t like it one bit. It feels unnerving to never know if I am going to laugh or cry.  Some days start out fine, hopeful even, and end in sobs that put me into a deep if nightmare-induced sleep.

It all started after the Stanford rape case, but continued to get worse after the mass shooting in Orlando. I’m going to be perfectly honest, even if it makes me sound like a monster: I was almost numb to the whole thing the second I heard it.  In thinking about how I reacted and felt days later, I realized that a small little wall went up inside of my heart which said, “Oh no you don’t.  I am not going to even process this one.”  I was too afraid to really sit with what had happened to those innocent people who were just spending a Saturday night out with their friends.  It reminded me of what happened in Paris last year.  It reminded me of an old friend being trapped and killed in the Pentagon on 9/11.  It wasn’t just about the weapon used (though that had a lot to do with it) or who was targeted, it also just ignited that trauma flame that lives within all of us.  It reminded me of so much that I wanted to grow a shell and climb into a hard piece of protective wear that I could stay in as long as I needed to. What was I fearful of?  Perhaps that I would break down and never be able to pull myself back together again.

I’ve always been a really sensitive person.  Like, intensely sensitive.  When I was younger and we’d talk about our “flaws” in school I would always say that I was “too” sensitive.  Now, even as an adult, when I think about just how much my parent’s love me or how lucky I am to have SHL hold my hand at Dana-Farber, I have to breathe in the tears quickly and a good chunk of the time I can’t even do it fast enough and I have to pretend like I have allergies.  I can cry at the drop of a hat.  I can walk by a homeless person or see a dog with three legs and weep like the tears have been at the edge of my eyelids forever and were just waiting to be released.  It seems no wonder that I became a social worker.

Sometimes I think maybe it would be easier if I could just find a way to turn off that faucet, to maybe not feel quite as much, or maybe just not as intensely.  I love that my heart wants to explode with joy at times, but I hate when it wants to explode with sadness and anger and helplessness. But of course, if we can’t feel anything we escape the pain but we miss the bliss as well.

And yet I wonder, if I didn’t let myself pour my soul out into the world, perhaps the anxiety, sadness, fear and depression that living with these tragedies across the globe creates, as well as my own incurable cancer, all would just fester and then ultimately explode (or more likely, implode).  And at the same time, I do truly believe that the more we stuff deep down inside, the more it can effect our physical health for the worse.  So, we must find ways to cope. (Thank you, meditation).

I oscillate between dreaming of unicorns and having nightmares filled with bloodshed.

I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around another senseless shooting, just as I am sure that nobody in their right mind can. I am sad for human beings, I am sad for the LGBT community (of which I fully support, especially my friends who have been brave enough to live the life they deserve) and I am sad for people who think that some kind of gun control isn’t worth it because we’ll never be able to fully get guns off of the streets anyway and if you can carry a handgun you should be able to carry an assault rifle (Who needs an assault rifle?  For what purpose?).  No matter what we believe about the Constitution and our country, I would like to believe above all else that we don’t want any more innocent lives lost this way.  That this is never what the Founding Fathers had in mind for the future of our country.

I am reminded of after 9/11 (of which I can still hear the helicopters flying overhead and the smell from the WTC burning just a few miles from where I lived uptown), when so many conspiracies were floating around (and still are). Some people would say to me, “How can you not even consider the fact that our government could have not just known that this could happen, but could have even had something to do with it?”

My response was and will always be the same. “I just can’t wake up and get out of bed every day thinking that my government could have let such a thing happen.”  Perhaps this is what is wrong with the world; people like me who would rather pull the covers over their head than let any other theory ring true.  I honestly don’t know that I could get out of bed if I really and truly believed that our government had anything to do with that day.

But do I really want to pull the covers over my head?  No.  As the years go on and I have more maturity and investment in our well-being and understanding the country’s strengths and weaknesses, what I really want is to make a difference.  This is why I chose social work:  I just couldn’t stand the thought of going about my life as if no human suffering occurred when I felt that I could have had some kind of impact to help ease the pain of others.  It’s been an incredibly difficult career choice but also amazingly fulfilling and selfishly, when I have been able to help people even just a little bit, it feels like I could hang-glide off of a mountain without the hang-glide.

And so I ask everybody that I come into contact with these days: What can average American citizens such as myself do?  Is there ANY kind of power that I have that I am just not tapping into?  There are so many issues that I feel passionately about and I try to live my life in alignment with my own values; I try to be good to others as I would have others be good to me, no matter race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, etc.   The Golden Rule:  Do unto others as they would do unto you. This does not make me perfect.  This just makes me a believer that as long as you’re not hurting anybody else, you should have the right to go off and lead any kind of life that makes you happy.

Now how do I get everybody in the world to just agree with me?  I say with sarcasm of course but we each believe that we are right and if only others would see it, the world would be such a more peaceful place, right?

I go back to the Stanford College swimmer rape case and the fact that this white, All-American wealthy athlete only got 6 months in jail, and I feel my emotions swell again underneath the tide until they are at the surface and I almost feel like I could drown. There is lots more to this case that we’re not hearing about on Facebook or through petitions such as the reasons for having an independent judiciary (and thinking about white supremacists trying to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren after he agreed to make school serration illegal in Brown V. Board of Education). This is not just about the judge, it is also about the fact that it is possible to convict somebody of this heinous crime and only have them serve 6 months in jail and that is still staying within the limits of the law.  Having said that, the fact that we could have somebody in such a position of power who could make such a horrendously anti-victim/anti-woman ruling just makes my heart sink into my shoes.  I think about all of my friends who could have been Emily Doe and I think about my friends who are Emily Doe and it makes me so sick.  There are the emotions again, and I swallow my tears but never my compassion for people who are intrinsically intertwined with these tragedies.

There’s that helpless feeling again.

And yet the fact remains that blow after blow seems to be splayed across our TV screens and newspapers. A toddler is dragged into a lake by an alligator.  A singer is shot while giving autographs.  50 innocent people at a club in Orlando lose their life for absolutely no.good.reason.

We are at war, but not just with our outside enemies who do not agree with our Western culture/beliefs, but also with each other and with fate and being at the wrong place at the wrong time and mother nature. Sometimes it all just feels like too much.

We cannot seem to agree what should be done about anything; guns, abortion, the economy, creating new jobs, global warming.  People are becoming angrier and angrier, more stressed, irritable and glued to social media as a way to what?  Not actually deal with what is right in front of them?  Maybe.  I can’t say that I feel like I can always control my posting or scrolling or liking.  I find afterwards that I feel it is all a waste of time and yet I need to connect because somehow if I disconnect and don’t know what’s going than that makes me feel naïve and out of touch.  Or… Maybe we’re all so busy on social media trying to get others to think that our lives (and our husbands/wives/children/families/jobs/houses) are so perfect because if we let anybody else into the cracks in our homes or souls, we ourselves would crumble. And with the world seemingly crumbling beneath our feet, this is our last way of holding on for dear life.

I hear a senator say that the answer is to pray and I think how offensive this must be to people that do not pray/believe in religion or G-d and to people who have lost loved ones by guns.  For some people praying is an essential part of our beings, but we as a country clearly need more than that:  We need action.  I think about my friend HB  who, though it took 15 years, passed a bill in the State of Massachusetts (3 strikes and you’re out) in the memory of her sister M who was taken way too soon and by somebody that never should have been let out of jail in the first place.  15 years.  But she and her family never stopped trying.  And we can’t either.

I find it hard to believe that we can’t find a way to make some kind of a change; that ultimately, we are giving our enemies exactly what they want: For us to turn on each other.  For us to debate (which is OK as long as it is healthy debating that is guiding us toward a bigger and better solution) and yell and argue and start fighting tangentially about other things that don’t really matter– but then ultimately not be able to come together and make a decision for the betterment of the United States, and more importantly, for the betterment of human kind.

I feel like at any moment you could touch me with a feather and knock me down. I feel grateful that I can hug my family and friends but terrified that they could be taken away from me and not just by things as awful as car accidents or disease, but now from random shootings as well.  I feel crazed because like everybody, I just know that my beliefs are “the right ones.” I feel like I could cry for days and sleep for days and then maybe what seems to happen after every tragedy will happen again… We’ll raise our flags and post our comments and shake our fists and then things will go back to some kind of normal.

My emotions are right there at the surface and sometimes, I worry that my sorrow will just swallow me whole.  But I won’t let it.  And in this mess, this whole mess that seems to encompass the entire world, I stay strong in the notion that we can still try to find some answers.  I refuse to give up on myself and I refuse to give up on the world.


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